When you find yourself in the position of planning or being contracted for a series of books—whether for two or twenty-two—it’s important to keep track of the details, and have a final goal in mind for your characters to reach.
Guest column by Jess Haines, author of
Hunted by the Others, the first in an urban
fantasy series. Jess also writes short stories
and screenplays, and has experience in in
technical writing and editing. See her
website here, or find her on Facebook.
First, you have to decide on some basic elements:
- How is your series linked? Is it all written from the perspective of or following the same character from start to finish, or does it follow different characters?
- What is the major, overarching conflict?
- Who is the main character(s) and what do they want to accomplish? What do they have to do with the conflict above? What are some of the major obstacles they will have to overcome?
- Who is the main antagonist(s) and what do they want to accomplish? What do they have to do with the conflict above?
- Who else is involved? Why?
- Which point of view will you be writing this from?
- When and where is this set?
- If a fantasy, what kind of fantastical elements are involved, and what are the benefits, drawbacks, and restrictions involved?
Based upon the answers to the above, know your limits. Use those questions as a starting point to flesh out your world and make it believable.
PLOT THE TIMELINE
One of the best ways to keep track of the overall story arc is to plot a timeline of significant events. Even if the timeline stretches far beyond what is covered in the books, it helps you keep track of what occurred, when, and why. Even if it is no more than a sentence or two beside a date, it will give you bounds to work within, and a greater sense of purpose as you fill in the details between one major event and the next. You’ll know where your characters are going, which helps you to plot out the answers to the questions of how and why. It also gives you a way to track what occurs between Point A (main character gets pulled into conflict) and Point B (main character puts an end to said conflict).
UP THE ANTE
Remember, your characters have to continually face increasing odds and challenges in a series, so don’t play your trump card in the first book. There should be ripple effects from the characters’ actions, so make sure you take these things into account and plan accordingly. Make note of them. Don’t keep your world static—have the actions and reactions of all the various characters, including behind the scenes, have an effect on each other. Even if you’re using different characters book to book, as long as it’s all set in the same universe, there should be some action/reaction going on at all times. Characters should grow and learn over time, too, so make sure if they’re making mistakes that it’s not the same mistake over and over again.
YOUR "BIBLE" (OR "CHEAT SHEET")
Another tip is to keep a “cheat sheet” of sorts. Use it to keep tabs on things like minor characters, background info that might have bearing on the novels, snippets of statistics or information that you may need to refer to later, etc. You can also keep a database tracking major character attributes (height, weight, skin color, eye color, certain groups they belong to, notable quirks in speech or personality, physical ticks, habits, etc). This can be an invaluable tool to refer to when working across a series where a minor character may only pop up once every few books—and you need to know exactly what they look like so your sharper readers aren’t left wondering why the character had blue eyes in the first book, and brown eyes in the second.
Lastly, you should consider keeping a style sheet—a document that tracks “quirks” to your writing style. For example, if you want to insert text messages and emails into your story, but need to show how the text should be formatted differently to separate it from the rest of the novel (e.g., extra indent, justified, font size 12, use Courier New instead of Times New Roman), make a note of it on a separate document. This goes for spelling or grammar quirks, too. This can be a handy tool for you, your agent, your editor, and the copy editor.
What all of the above boils down to is—be organized. Be prepared. Be knowledgeable about your story and your craft. It will make for a far stronger series in the end.
This post is an online exclusive complement
to a spotlight on Jess in the Sept./Oct. 2010
issue of WD. If you don't have a sub to
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